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To hope or not to hope

  • After a best-selling debut, Mark Manson’s second book is a bit of a damp squib
  • In it, he argues that holding on to hope may not be the best way ahead for humanity

A protester at a demonstration against US President Donald Trump.
A protester at a demonstration against US President Donald Trump.

Mark Manson enjoys the dubious distinction of being the most successful among writers who put the F-word in the title of their books. In December, Slate chronicled the bewildering range of such examples—a cookbook called What The F*@# Should I Make For Dinner?, a colouring book called Go F*uck Yourself I’m Coloring, even a parody of a children’s book called Go The F**kTo Sleep. Among this august company belongs Manson’s debut book, The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck, which has sold millions of copies across the world since it appeared in 2016.

Manson’s new book, though not a sequel, features the F-word in the title again. No harm in repeating a successful trick. It also conveys a sentiment that rings true for millions living through this moment of climate breakdown, the rise of attention economy, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Donald Trump.

Everything Is F*cked, as the subtitle puts it, is A Book About Hope, though at the end of it Manson may lead you to believe the exact opposite. From the opening pages, you can recognize his signature style: flippant remarks (he describes Nazism as “that whole Hitler thing"), a litany of wisecracks and a series of counterfactual statements. All these qualities were abundantly present in his first book and are perhaps the reason why so many readers were drawn to it. Who would want to trudge through philosophical tomes when they are available in easily digestible nuggets, padded with wacky examples?

In Everything Is F*cked, Manson does his familiar spiel of dropping idea bombs in every chapter. Isaac Newton, Friedrich Nietzsche, Immanuel Kant, Nassim Nicholas Taleb: an eclectic line of thinkers appear through its pages. Just as Manson does not shy away from wading into deep waters, he does not hesitate from assuming a mock-serious, self-ironic tone. In the first part he explains the futility of hope—and why it is a healthier alternative to irrational expectations from life. The idea of living and working without hope, for Manson, isn’t a sign of nihilism, but maturity. It takes people closer to becoming responsible adults, who live intentionally and do not use other people as means to an end.

The second part puts the contemporary paranoia about the brokenness of the world into a historical perspective. While Manson tends to belabour some points, about pain and happiness for example, he makes perceptive remarks about the rise of the ultra-right and the future of AI. Not everything he says makes perfect sense, but then, what can you say to a man who admits that everything is always already f*cked?

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